SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Compare and contrast Labor’s approach to the carbon tax legislation with what the Howard Government did with the GST [Goods and Services Tax]. Firstly, the big difference John Howard took the GST to an election; Julia Gillard has run scared from having the people decide the fate of her carbon tax campaign. But, secondly, if we look at the Parliamentary scrutiny, John Howard and the Coalition agreed to the establishment of four separate Parliamentary committees to inquire into the GST. They had four months in which to report. During that time, no debate occurred in the Parliament on the GST. Those committees all had non-Government majorities. Overwhelmingly they were chaired by Labor Senators. The Coalition submitted itself and its policies to total public scrutiny. Julia Gillard, on the other hand, is running scared. She’s running scared of public accountability, she’s running scared of public scrutiny and she’s running scared of Parliamentary scrutiny. These carbon tax bills should be treated in no lesser manner than the GST bills were treated. They should be subject to the same extensive Parliamentary scrutiny, including by Parliamentary committees that can give all Australians the opportunity to have their say. Labor’s plan to curtail this debate and to limit it in such a way as to provide less than a minute for every member of this place to speak on each of the 18 bills before us is an outrageous attempt to restrict the Parliament. It should be rejected and the Government should accept, and the cross benchers should accept, a far more rigorous and thorough investigation of these vast legislative reforms.
JOURNALIST: So what will the Coalition do, then, to try and stop these things being rushed through?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition will be presenting alternatives for how we can have decent scrutiny. We believe that the type of model that the Howard Government agreed to under the GST provides a sensible model multiple committees looking at the different aspects of this package. You have to understand that a package like the carbon tax package has impacts on the economy and on jobs but also on households and on the community sector. Of course it has impacts on the environmental debate and on environmental policy. There are a raft of Parliamentary committees established to look at those very policy issues. They should be the ones doing the job so we get total scrutiny and total analysis of all of the many impacts of this package.
JOURNALIST: You’ve had the draft legislation for months. Shouldn’t you be across the detail by now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s not a matter of the Coalition being across the detail or not, although I note that there is an ever increasing list of legislation. Anthony Albanese announced yesterday that they expect 18 bills to be passed. Well, they only released 13 in their first set, so we haven’t had all of the draft legislation for months. The Australian people have not had a chance to comment or to see it but, most importantly, this is about community engagement. Parliamentary committees are most important in this place when they get out of here, talk to business, talk to the community, talk to the Australian people and give them their chance to have their say on the record. Why is Julia Gillard so scared of hearing what the Australian people have to say about her carbon tax?
JOURNALIST: You said it’s not up to the Opposition to be across the detail. Well, isn’t that exactly what the Opposition is supposed to do to hold Government to account?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Opposition will be across all of the detail when we see all of the bills. We haven’t seen all of the bills so we can’t be mind readers; we can’t know what is in all 18 of these legislative packages that have been brought to the Parliament, but we think it is equally important that the Australian people have their say and Julia Gillard needs to answer why she is so scared of giving the Australian people their say. She won’t let them have their say at an election. She won’t let them have their say through the Parliamentary committee process that would normally be applied. She wants to shut down debate on this carbon tax.
JOURNALIST: There will be a Parliamentary inquiry though. Why isn’t that enough for you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This is a truncated Parliamentary inquiry. Again, compare and contrast with the GST. They’re proposing one Parliamentary committee to look at these sweeping reforms compared to four Parliamentary committees which looked at the GST reforms. They are proposing four weeks for it to consider, compared with four months that the GST committees sat. They want the debate to run concurrently in the Parliament, before this committee has even reported, whereas John Howard deferred debate in the Parliament until such time as these committees of the GST reported a vastly different approach. John Howard was not scared of debating the issues with the Australian people. Julia Gillard clearly is.
JOURNALIST: It’s going to be very difficult to untangle this legislation if you get into Government. Is this the last roll of the dice for you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition remains steadfast in its belief that we will oppose these bills in opposition and repeal them in government.
JOURNALIST: The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, has accused the Opposition of lying, saying it’s deliberately spreading false talking points about the carbon tax legislation. Is that true?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition is exposing the flaws in this tax policy. The Greens and others should legitimately question themselves as to why they’ve signed up to something, in the case of the Greens, that despite churning around $9 billion a year through Government coffers will still see emissions rise in Australia by 2020. How is this good policy? They’re not lies. They’re facts.
JOURNALIST: But are you spreading this false information which includes saying that the Government is going to be supporting international permits using taxpayers’ money when in fact they’re not and that jobs are going to be lost when the Government says in fact they won’t?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we’re going to see billions of dollars sent offshore under this process. Billions of dollars will be sent offshore to buy international permits. We will see the taxpayers face an enormous deficit if Labor is to meet its promises of actually providing compensation, so I think it’s pretty clear that taxpayers are in a hole, particularly as a result of the way the international arrangements of this policy are structured.
JOURNALIST: So the Climate Change Minister is wrong? You’re not spreading false information deliberately?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition is extremely confident that we are expressing the facts of the matter and we want the opportunity for the Australian people to examine those facts as well.